seoulbeats_20141214_2ne1Let’s cut to the chase – the only thing more exciting than a debut is the comeback, a time in which artists are allowed to cement their past impressions or redefine themselves completely. 2014 has been a newsworthy year, no doubt, but the return of idols and artists to the music scene was buzzworthy in itself.

Continuing off the mid-year review, the writers at Seoulbeats have claimed their picks for the best comebacks of 2014.

Rank Amy Monique Elaine
1 Epik High Seo Taiji Taeyang
2 Taeyang AOA Seo Taiji
3 B1A4 Kara Super Junior
4 Seo Taiji Orange Caramel Kara
5 Spica Block B 2NE1

Monique: Elaine, I’m so glad you also mentioned Kara in your list. I thought their comeback wasn’t all that well-received; it didn’t chart as well as many of their previous singles. But for me, it was a return to the classic retro-dance-pop Kara, nearly-too-squeaky-but-still-tolerable-vocals Kara, energetic-and-fun Kara that we all know and love. And they managed all that without the help of Sweetune! Duble Sidekick knew exactly what to do with Kara. Bless them. The waacking, the outfits, and the live vocals all came together for an amazing comeback in the face of Jiyong‘s and Nicole‘s departures—major departures that could have easily done in another group.

20141214_seoulbeats_karaElaine: In terms of Kara’s comeback, I, too, loved how they came back with a bright song like “Mamma Mia”, and the melody and lyrics make it a fun listen overall. The reason why this comeback stood out amongst many to me, though, is because I consider it a success being their first release after Kara’s image had been significantly tarnished and a member change was undergone. While some aspects of the old Kara were retained (most of which I think Monique mentioned), this comeback also marks new beginnings. Duble Sidekick did a good job of retaining Kara’s familiar sound, but also deviated slightly from their typical pop style and adopted an 80’s sound.

The MV was also fancier (albeit a bit boring) and the performances were much more complex. In my opinion, the performances were the best part – between the abundance of backup dancers, the bright lighting, the vigorous choreography and the passing of the dance between members during the verses, the stages always seemed grand and full of energy. Not to mention the waacking, which was a creative motif in the choreography that was impressively executed by the Kara members.

Amy: Our selections span quite a lot of different artists and groups, but Seo Taiji stands out as the shared pick between the three of us. He’s known as a legend and has been releasing music for decades, so what about this comeback in particular caught your attention?

20141214_seoulbeats_seo taiji_ quiet nightMonique: I’m a sucker for synthpop, and Seo Taiji’s heavy reliance on synths made Quiet Night a cohesive, enjoyable album; “90s Icon” and “Prison Break” were true stand-outs. As far as his singles go, I much prefer “Sogyeokdong” to “” – “Sogyeokdong” is the loveliest K-pop song I encountered this year. The intricate, rooted-in-reality story and the almost faded vocals make it so delicate; it stands out in an industry with tons of bombastic, overwhelming songs.

Elaine: I’m also in agreement with Monique on Seo Taiji’s comeback – his music has a unique sound, which I liked. Also, his two title songs stood in stark contrast with each other, which I found incredibly interesting. “” is a fast-paced song that has quite a hard-to-follow melody and a complex accompaniment centered around electronic instruments. “Sogyeokdong”, on the other hand, while heavily synth-based, is clearly slower, has a more definite structure and conveys a feeling of reminiscence, which is further reinforced by the MV. Seo Taiji’s ability to compose and combine more back-in-the-day music and very modern music is probably what impressed me most about his comeback.

Amy: I’d actually like to make a case for “”. While it is less steady in structure than “Sogyeokdong”, what drew me into the song was how many contrasting elements Seo Taiji managed to fit cohesively together. I don’t think any other song could have mixed nursery rhymes, nu-metal undertones, and two holidays together and made it out alive, much less with the meaning that “” carries. Seo Taiji has never been one to shy away from controversial messages in his music, and the political commentary conveyed in “” — and to a degree, “Sogyeokdong” — makes his comeback singles meaningful, and mixed together with his unique sound, memorable and respectably ambitious to me.

And since Monique brought up Kara, let’s continue on the topic of shared picks. I’ve got to ask: why the lack of love for Taeyang?

20140605_seoulbeats_taeyang_rise[1]Monique: In the case of Taeyang, I recognize the significance of his most recent round of promotions, with the strong sales, the numerous music show wins, and the countless covers and parodies of “Eyes, Nose, Lips”. Taeyang successfully promoted on his own terms, and I commend him for that. But “Eyes, Nose, Lips” seemingly went nowhere, and Taeyang’s voice isn’t powerful enough or unique enough in its vocal color to carry a four minute long ballad and make it memorable.

Amy: I think you raise a really good point when you acknowledge the commercial success of Rise. Exactly what qualifies a good comeback? Obviously there has to be some achieved level of popularity and sales, because comebacks are as much about proving the sustainability of an artist in the music market as much as the actual artistic content. I enjoyed “Eyes, Nose, Lips” and thought Rise as a whole was sleekly produced, so Taeyang made my list. On the other hand, Spica’s “You Don’t Love Me” fell just a little short of my (admittedly high) expectations, but I thought it was noteworthy that the comeback gave the group a fresh, sassier direction that paid off in performances and attention when they had stayed stagnant for so long popularity-wise with previous singles. In the same vein, what qualities did you guys judge in a comeback? What made your number one the top pick?

Elaine: Monique, I know how it feels to hold an unpopular opinion. I personally liked “Eyes, Nose, Lips” because it’s a ballad that is simple and stripped down to the core, but is beautifully composed and delivers a wealth of raw emotion thanks to Taeyang’s execution. His smooth vocal colour, for me, is part of what makes the song, and possibly why I keep going back to the original despite numerous other covers that technically are equally as good. Also, I agree that Taeyang isn’t exactly a vocal powerhouse, but I think “Eyes, Nose, Lips” is therefore a good fit, because of its simplicity. Even the ad-libs, which are commonly the more challenging parts in songs, serve more to help elevate the final refrain to a climax in “Eyes, Nose, Lips” instead of boasting their difficulty. In addition, the fact that Taeyang was involved in the production of his album makes it all the more impressive. Of course, I also took the explosive responses to his comeback into consideration, which was the final factor that labelled it as a great success for me.

20141025_seoulbeats_super juniorWhen I was choosing my favourite comebacks, for a song to make the list it had to be firstly that it had to be a song I personally enjoyed. Epik High and Spica‘s comebacks were admittedly very impressive musically, and I whole-heartedly acknowledge that, but their music styles just aren’t to my taste, so I felt that I would have a hard time arguing that a certain comeback is the best when I don’t even listen to the song.

I then evaluated the comebacks from the perspective of satisfaction equals perception minus expectations, which mainly contributed to how I ordered my preferences. I considered Kara’s song to be comparatively weaker than the others on my list. However, I didn’t put them last as I was admittedly very skeptical towards this comeback, but “Mamma Mia” came as a pleasant surprise. Similarly, public perception of Super Junior seems to be that they are relatively lacking in musicality, but their 7th album exceeded expectations, with solid B-sides — two of which were even used as title tracks for their repackage promotions — and the involvement of members in composition and production.

Commercial success is a final kind of deal sealer, and is what solidifies the comebacks’ positions on my list. When I couldn’t decide which comeback to put as best, I also ended up choosing Taeyang’s because of the degree of commercial success it achieved.

Also, since I’ve kind of done so already, would you guys like to elaborate on the comeback you ranked the highest and why you deemed it the best?

20141026_seoulbeats_epik_high_shoeboxAmy: “Satisfaction equals perception minus expectations,” I like that a lot!

Though I must admit that expectations did effect my decision-making. I judged a comeback in context of the group’s growth alongside musical merit, and had a similar thought process to yours when it came down to rankings. I placed B1A4 third, not necessarily because I believe Who Am I was superior to Quiet Night in terms of sound, but because the album and single “Lonely” were such a pleasant surprise from the group’s previously bubblegum pop sound. Who Am I was a sophisticated step-up that showcased complex compositions, matured themes, and greater creative control by the boys. To me, these releases from B1A4 were notable as a comeback because they marked the beginnings of a solid musical identity for the group.

As for Epik High, Tablo‘s cover of “Eyes, Nose, Lips” had already set the bar high (no pun intended), but Shoebox didn’t fail to deliver. That was probably the most blatant indicator of success for Shoebox, that it had been two years since Epik High’s last release and the album had collected so much anticipation, and when it finally dropped, lived up to the hype. I respect how ambitious the album was, boasting big-name collaborations with the likes of Gaeko, Beenzino, Verbal Jint, and Kim Jong-wan and a covering a huge span of subjects. Each song was distinctive in sound but retained Epik High’s brand of painfully honest lyrical narrative, and the resulting album felt fresh and made a deep impression that lasted beyond the album’s 53 minutes. The production of Shoebox warranted a mention as well for being incredibly thorough, and it really felt like each count of every song had been crafted with care…which, I suppose, is the benefit of an album two years in the making.

Monique: In judging a comeback, I consider the quality of the songs, the commercial success, and the originality of the concept and the music. I enjoyed several K-pop songs this year, but a number of them weren’t all that original or successful.

20141114_seoulbeats_aoa_hyejeongMy number one comeback this year, in terms of personal enjoyment, is AOA‘s “Miniskirt”. They took the somewhat stale “sexy choreo + Brave Brothers production” concept and made it enjoyable and uniquely theirs. I love(d) “Miniskirt” and “Under the Street Lamps”, and their choreo definitely didn’t hurt.

In terms of musical significance—as in, what will still hold its place in history five or ten years from now—I have to go with Seo Taiji’s comeback. The strong storytelling and solid production on Quiet Night, paired with Seo Taiji’s history as a pioneer in the industry, will keep it remembered for years to come.

Amy: Since we’ve discussed our favorites of 2014, which comebacks of the coming year are on your radar, or which ones would you like to see? It seems like YG will be one to watch, given that Big Bang has been crying comeback for months and iKON has exhausted all possible pre-debut competition programs (…right?). I’m especially curious to see EXO‘s comeback as well, because it feels a bit like a make-or-break moment. This comeback is supposed to prove they can continue as a 10 membered group, and I’m hoping SM doesn’t hold back and gives us something as good as “Growl” or better.

Monique: EXO is also on my radar, primarily because I want to see how SM handles these skewed subgroups. EXO has lost almost all their footing in the Chinese market, so maybe, just maybe they’ll come back with a public-friendly song along the lines of “Growl”. YG is definitely the strongest company at the moment, scandals be damned; it’ll be interesting to see if YG can keep the momentum going, especially with the arguably coffeeshop indie sound and stylings of AKMU. Miss A has a comeback on the horizon which I’m eagerly awaiting–I’d love to see them return to their “Bad Girl Good Girl” fame.

Also, no more pseudo reality survival shows please. That’s all I ask of you, 2015.

Elaine: With regards to EXO’s comeback next year, I think whether they can continue to rise in popularity in the K-pop industry is highly dependent on how public friendly their next release is. Because the group is so large two members departing does not make much of a difference to me (as a non-fan), not the mention EXO-K is still intact. I therefore think that if SM gives them a song as good as “Growl” or an album as solid as Overdose, they’ll still be going strong. I also personally have my eye on the rising girl groups — Girl’s Day, A Pink and AOA — as all three have had major hits this year. Although I don’t expect them to catapult into the top tier of girl groups anytime soon, I am hoping they can keep up the momentum, and I’m looking forward to seeing more great releases in 2015!


What’s your verdict, readers — agree or disagree? Tell us your own top five picks in the comments below. Additionally, which comebacks are on your Christmas wishlist for the new year?